ICT, Globalization, and the Pursuit of Happiness: The problem of change

Krystyna Gorniak-Kocikowska


The ongoing process of globalization is a fact. ICT is regarded (correctly) as a major force enabling and speeding up this process. Globalization causes and promotes changes; it thrives on change. In this paper, I will attempt to examine the ethical value of change in the ICT-driven, global society.

Psychological roots of the problem of change

One of the features of human nature is that we all have an attitude toward change. Some people like changes; some don’t, even abhorr them. Establishing an individual’s attitude toward change counts today among standard steps in producing his/her psychological profile.

Typically, people try to justify rationally their predilections. In the case of their attitude toward change, a very important component of this justification is of ethical nature. When somebody likes changes, he/she would tend to see it as good, including “good” in moral sense; and the lack of it as bad. The same is true of the opposite attitude. Hence, the justification of one’s preference is based usually on ethical arguments. Consequently, one’s attitude toward change becomes part of not only a psychological profile of that person; it becomes part of his/her moral profile as well.

Philosophical (Greek) roots of the problem of change

One of the oldest philosophical questions in the Western civilization is the question whether the reality has a dynamic (changing), or static (unchanging) nature. Already Parmenides and Heraclitus pondered over it; and they came up with opposing answers. Then, Plato famously proposed a solution that was a compromise between these two earlier positions. At the same time, Plato accomplished something else as well. But Whereas the philosophers before him treated the question of change as an ontological one, Plato gave it an ethical dimension. Plato did not like change (one can say that this was part of his psychological profile). So, in his dualistic concept of reality he attributed perfection and moral goodness to the unchanging component of reality, whereas the changing (physical) reality was characterized as flawed both in ontological as well as ethical sense.

Plato’s views, and even more the views of some of the neo-platonists strongly influenced Western religions, in particular Christianity and Islam – Judaism to a lesser degree. Consequently, in the Western civilization change has been for centuries perceived as bad, because it was seen as an attribute of “this” imperfect and morally flawed reality. On the other hand, the lack of change, associated with goodness, was attributed to the “other world,” “the Kingdom of Heaven,” the paradise.

The problem of happiness

Another Greek philosopher, Aristotle, contributed a very important thought to the subject of change. He declared that what characterizes all human beings, what makes us all similar, is the desire to be happy. We all want to be happy; happiness itself is good.

However, there are two problems related to this issue. However, there are countless ways in which people perceive happiness. Hence the question, whether all kinds of happiness are morally good. This question became the backbone of all ethical systems in the West, no matter whether religious or not.

The other problem is more directly linked to the subject of this paper. If it is human nature to desire happiness, than people who are happy (no matter whether “blissfully happy” or simply content) will want to stay happy. Hence, they will want things to remain as they are; and they won’t be interested in change. On the other hand, people who do not perceive themselves as happy, will pursue happiness, whatever it means to them; and they will want change. The desires and actions of these two groups will oppose each other.

The reversal of values

This conflict manifested itself very drastically in the Western civilization at the end of the 18th Century, when it took the form of violent social and political revolutions. Ever since, people who are unhappy/discontent support change in pursuit of happiness (in some societies, the pursuit of happiness belongs to individual civil, or human, rights).

Meanwhile, Plato’s view on the nature of reality has been revised in that sense that the changing character of physical reality lost its negative value. Change has been declared an unalienable feature of Nature. Nature, it turn, has been declared as good.

That way, a reversal of values took place. At the beginning of the 21st Century, to promote change is good because it is part of the nature of things. To oppose change is bad. The problem, however, is that wanting change is itself an expression of unhappiness, or at least discontent.

Change and happiness in the global ICT society

It would seem that this situation should not cause any problems for the global, ICT driven society, which – almost by definition – is supposed to support and promote change. But things are not that simple, because there remain still two problems regarding the human nature: 1. the fact that some people do not like change due to their own psychological make-up – in other words, change in itself makes them unhappy rather than happy; 2. for some people, especially those who are happy now, change may mean unhappiness rather than happiness.

The emerging question in this situation is, whose happiness should be sacrificed on the altar of the global ICT society? Or maybe the individual human right to happiness should be sacrificed? Of course, we will all have the right to eternally pursue happiness in the world of constant change.